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Academics standing up publicly to Elsevier! This is very exciting. Thanks, Tim Gowers! Thanks, everyone else who has been working for open access for quite some time now!

On the topic of open access, I thought I might briefly address some of the most common non-financial/technical objections I hear raised about it. (I'm excluding the financial/technical ones because I'm not qualified to argue them in detail; let's just take it as given that the truth lies somewhere between "the current situation is the best of all possible worlds" and "we could switch to an everything-is-free-for-everyone model overnight if it wasn't for greedy capitalists", and deal solely with objections to open access as an ideal.)

Hardly anyone outside academia wants to read academic research anyway.

First of all, this can't just be asserted. Every year, JSTOR turns away 150 goddamn million search requests. Even if 99% of those search requests were from idly websurfing bozos who would have immediately clicked the "Back" button upon not seeing a picture of Katy Perry, that still leaves one and a half million serious requests.

Secondly, even if it were true, that's not an argument against allowing access to people who do want to read the stuff. And if the argument is supposed to be "Hardly anyone wants to etc., so it hardly seems worth addressing the problem" then clearly, the only option people like me have is to keep agitating until some worth is perceived in addressing the problem.

If we allowed everyone to read our papers, we'd have to dumb them down and include so much catch-up information that journals would become bloated and progress would be slowed.

No. This is a straight-up misconception and I don't know why it's so common. Maybe the people who believe this are confusing the call for "open access" (that is, letting non-academics read academic journals) for "greater accessibility" (that is, writing for the general public rather than fellow researchers). If so, let me reassure them: we want the former, not the latter. We don't want things rewritten For Dummies. We don't want editorial control. We don't want everything put on Reddit and voted up and down based on how cute the lead author's cat is. We want academic research to go on just as it always has, jargon and all, except with us allowed to read the results too. The fact that the material is written at a high level is exactly why we want to read it. If we just wanted to read summarized and sensationalized highlights, we'd be content with Slate.

If we allowed everyone to read our papers, the information would be twisted and misused by anti-vaccine activists, creationists, demagogues, bloggers, etc.

The world is already full of con artists, rabble rousers and dupes. There is no conceivable mechanism by which making better information more available worsens this situation. If anything, it should ameliorate the problem: the activists outside academia trying to refute the tidal waves of bullshit sloshing around the noosphere would certainly benefit from being dealt in to the non-bullshit game.

Arguments like these boil down to one single, patronizing principle: non-academics can't handle academic writing. This isn't true, and it's getting falser every day. We're allies, not enemies. One day things will be better, and I mean for everyone.

Popularity factor: 7

Leonardo Boiko:

Those are some pretty awful arguments! Do real people actually argue like that, or just paid sakuras like these?:

> According to the BBC "The firm [Elsevier] offered a $25 Amazon voucher to academics who contributed to the textbook Clinical Psychology if they would go on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble (a large US books retailer) and give it five stars." Elsevier said that "encouraging interested parties to post book reviews isn't outside the norm in scholarly publishing, nor is it wrong to offer to nominally compensate people for their time. But in all instances the request should be unbiased, with no incentives for a positive review, and that's where this particular e-mail went too far", and that it was a mistake by a marketing employee.[38]

(fun reading ­→ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsevier#Criticism_and_controversies )


"Making gestures with one's hands isn't outside the norm when it comes to communicating, nor is it wrong to disagree with someone. So it wasn't REALLY wrong to slug him like that."

I dunno -- I wouldn't put much past Elsevier, but I've seen these arguments coming from people who at least seem sincere. I assume they misinterpret the criticism of an unjust system as an attack on them personally and their blind self-preservation circuits kick in.


Look, if we let just anyone read the Bible, they might get the wrong idea, so let's leave it to the clerics, OK?


I so miss my college days because the ability to get any JSTOR article was just so awesome.

Leonardo Boiko:

bv: If you ever need a specific article most nice people living inside academic walls will be happy to forward it to you. Some might even comment on this blog and leave contact details like "leoboiko@gmail.com"! Not that I would know anything about it, of course, I’m a strictly law-abiding citizen.


Watch out, Leo. We don't want you to end up the Japanese studies version of Kim Dotcom!


Oh man, I'd love to read the take down articles after they arrest Leoboiko!

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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